Ratings Uptick Has CMT in a Party Mood

CMT is partying down as it heads into the upfront season. The Viacom-owned network has posted four consecutive quarters of year-over-year ratings increases, including a 31% uptick in primetime during first-quarter 2014, compared to the same period last year. Bolstered by a lineup mix of comedy, country music-themed programming and the reality hit Party Down South, the network is effectively reaching younger viewers. Jayson Dinsmore, executive vice president of CMT programming and development, spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the network’s evolving brand, good ratings fortunes and future programming strategy.

MCN: How would you define the CMT brand today?

Jayson Dinsmore: CMT lives at the intersection of hot, popular new music and rowdy original series. Our gritty yet upbeat and optimistic programming makes us the ultimate entertainment destination for anyone who possesses a sense of patriotism and authenticity, loves to laugh, have a good time and tries not to take themselves too seriously.

MCN: What’s been the key to CMT’s recent ratings success?

JD: For the first time in the history of CMT, we’ve figured out a way to align our original series with the sensibilities of our biggest country music stars. We launched our No. 1 series of all time and our No. 1 social show of all time in Party Down South, and fans cannot stop talking about it. What’s great is if you think about it, the cast of Party Down South looks like a group of people that would go see Jason Aldean in concert every week. So that marriage of originals with music is something that’s hard to find, and I think we’ve found the perfect chemistry there.

MCN: Party Down South did great numbers but had its detractors who criticized the cast’s wild antics. What did you think about the reaction to the series?

JD: I wasn’t surprised by the ratings or some of the negativity surrounding the show, but if you watched it, you would know that the cast won everyone over by the end of the series. It was a new initiative for CMT to see if we could drive more, younger music fans to the channel. It’s not representative of the entire channel — it’s a guilty pleasure show and we’re happy to have it because it is the highest rated show on the channel. The audience for the finale was something like 60% over the premiere episode, so to have that momentum going into a summer of young, cool music is a nice thing to have.

MCN: The network is jumping into the documentary arena. What does that genre bring to the network?

JD: It’s another form of storytelling that we’re bringing to our audience with a very unique point of view that no one is telling. We’re going to offer 20 total hours … and we’re tapping into the most creative Emmy, Peabody and Academy Award-winning producers and directors, including Ridley Scott, Morgan Spurlock and Mark Johnson.

I’m really excited about an eight-hour series we’re producing with the Country Music Hall of Fame on a moment in time when country music changed forever, during the outlaw movement. I’m also proud to be associated with Ridley Scott, who will produce four hours on the American farmer called Promiseland.

People always ask us if we’re trying to take on Nat Geo [Channel], History and Discovery [Channel] and quite honestly, we’re not. When you look at where we live on the cable landscape it’s a really sweet spot because no one’s there. We’re [median age] 42 years old and 60% female and largely [rural] country, but we’re expanding into [urban and suburban markets]. There really isn’t anyone who lives there, and there are so many channels that are going after that same male audience. We’re just going to continue to grow where we are and steal a few eyeballs from each of those channels. We’ve had four quarters of growth.

It’s really the best time in the history of the channel and we’re working from a position of strength.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.